Crimea, a wicked game of political chess and a ‘big’ coincidence

Arseni Yatseniuk

Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (left) & Arseni Yatseniuk, Interim Prime Minister of Ukraine (right), (EC Audiovisual Services)

Last Friday, 21 March, was a historic day in modern geopolitical proceedings. A former Soviet Union member was opening its door to the European Union while just a few hours later a significant part of the same country was being annexed by Russia. The former sentence on its own could have been taken from a science fiction book, but yet it is part of history now. This ‘accidental’ synchronisation of the two events has truly astonished me. It is like in the movies where you sit back and you absorb information in a linear manner, until something happens and you feel like shaking your head to make some space for a non linear event to fit your brains. This is exactly how I will treat the two simultaneous signatures of last Friday, one in Brussels and one in Moscow, like someone who has bought a ticket to a movie. I expect more people to empathise when they read further and perhaps to want to claim their money back…

Before taking our seats at the cinema theatre let’s review briefly last Friday’s events. Starting from our neighbourhood, there was a dusty agreement that was printed last November, lying somewhere inside a drawer at the European Council, but was never signed. It is none other but the “Association Accord” between the European Union and Ukraine, a deal that seals a broader economic, security and defines cooperation between the two sides. It is the same ‘contract’ that the 28 EU countries were all waiting for the former Ukrainian President to certainly confirm and sign. To their ‘big surprise’ Mr Yanukovich took back his word finally and he showed clear preference to the Russian steppe. The rest is four months of political and social unrest in Ukraine, brutal force, killings and ‘hints’ of civil war. Clearly Ukraine after signing the agreement through its Interim Prime Minister Arseni Yatseniuk obtained an ambitious European direction for the future; or at least this is how is seems.

A few miles to the East, with a ‘delay’ of only a few hours, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, was putting his final signature on the annexation of the southern peninsula of Ukraine, Crimea, to Russia. This ratified, according to the Russian part, the result of the Crimean vote that preceded last week, where the voters massively voted in favour of the ‘re-unification’ with Russia, with the presence of Russian guns and muscles in the territory. So, simply put what we saw is a country conquering a part of another one without official war, at least not yet. It seems that, as we move further  and further from the catastrophic World War II, countries find more ‘creative’ ways to invade in other countries with agreements and fireworks. Is it only me or something is not going at all well here? Similar ‘sudden’ invasion happened back in the 70s in Cyprus by Turkey and still the two sides are lost in ‘negotiations’ of what belongs to whom some 40 years later. Indeed we live in strange times. What next? Who takes over what with the suspicious silent consent of the world community that only makes you wonder? It makes you wonder how far from home are the big boys allowed to go and play and who gives a damn about the repercussions?

Coming back to those repercussions, the world community, ‘thank God’, ran to launch ‘strict’ sanctions to Russia for this illegal annexation that is indeed rare in modern European history. The USA through Barack Obama have already announced travel bans and asset freezes to 31 Russians, people from Putin’s government and billionaire tycoons that allegedly he has close relations to. All this with a bit of help from American giants like Mastercard and Visa but also from Fitch and Standard & Poors that changed their outlook to Russia from stable to negative. At the same time, the EU has announced similar sanctions to 33 Russians. Obviously, the EU, being primarily engaged into that, as Ukraine is situated in Europe and not in the USA, wanted to show more enthusiasm by topping up the list with two more persons than the US list. But will there be more significant sanctions than the comparison of the number of cells in an excel list?

Well, the EU did say something actually about further economic sanctions on the EU-Russia relations but wisely enough it was put vaguely and mildly. How could it happen otherwise, anyway, given the very important trade relations of the two countries, with Germany being on the top? Moreover, it goes without saying that trade sanctions cannot be launched impulsively to a market on which the EU depends so much on energy. At the same time, President Obama, who is presented to be more heavily ‘disturbed’ by that annexation, visits Europe currently and next week and he states that this will be on top of his agenda, discussing with Europeans how to ‘punish’ Russia. On the other side, Putin plays his own part of the game mocking openly the “personalised” sanctions towards his friends. Further, the Russian side posits that there is no need for further retaliation in an attempt to loosen a rather tensed tripartite political conflict between Russia, EU and US. Not to omit that the EU and the US support the mandate of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that will send an envoy of 500 specialists to monitor the security situation in Ukraine. Putin has agreed to that and looks supportive, again of course to cool down the tension. However, President Obama is said to insist on OSCE going also to Crimea to check things, but Putin, as expected, did not accept that, because for him Crimea is Russia and he can show the signed ‘contract’ too…

Will there be heavier sanctions from the EU and US towards Russia to try to convince Putin to give his ‘newly acquired’ region back? Will Russia retaliate with further heavy trade and economic sanctions? Will there be a World War III? I think none of the three.We are just being spectators here to a good game of international political chess. You know the one that political science professors wait for the “Check” to be announced, in order to analyse it based on the numerous existing theories and showcase it to their students as the term’s case study.

You see, nowadays there is no politics apparently but only business. An escalation of the situation would have serious impact on the world economy. However, indeed nobody can oversee the unprecedented illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine to Russia. Not to forget the political interests here of the greatest powers of the world that are gathered here and their ‘responsibility’ towards their voters that watch TV and expect World War III to begin.

All in all, all the major parties are called to play this hard political game to seek compromise in the end. And this is what will happen, a compromise; nothing more, nothing less. In any case, though, nobody can tell Putin to take back the fireworks lighting the sky of Sevastopol last week. In a couple of months this will be settled and the excel lists with sanctions erased.

What is of tantamount importance here, though, is to stop and think a little bit about that ‘synchronization’ of those two events on Friday that signalled in the most spectaculous way the end of another political vicious circle. A circle where the end meets exactly its beginning and the price of it being the loss of lives and territories. How pretentious and fake can last Fridays coincidence be?

What do I know anyway? I am just another one who paid his ticket to watch a political thriller but wants to claim his money back.

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